In Remembrance of Me

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I could not pass up devoting one more week on the topic of Holy Communion. We have yet to discuss the repeated sentence in Christ’s words of Institution, “Do this for the remembrance of me.” These words are important!

Unintentionally, these words often receive little attention among Lutherans because we are typically defending the teaching that in the Sacrament we receive the supernatural body and blood of our Lord. The opposing view, prominent among most Protestants, is a Memorial rather than a Sacramental view.

We do not deny that among the benefits of Holy Communion is that of providing an occasion for us to remember Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross for our salvation. The meal serves to remind us of what our Lord did on our behalf!

Yes, we recall what He did on our behalf! And yet we also celebrate what He continues to do on our behalf. And we continue to be thankful for how His death continues to equip us in our present moment.

Interestingly, in the Bible something done in remembrance is often more than just recalling a past event. It is that. But it is also an occasion to participate in the event itself. This is due to the living, active, authoritative power of God’s Word! In the Old Testament we witness this in the annual celebration of the Passover Meal. In that meal people recite the words of the miraculous deliverance of Israel from Egyptian bondage saying, “We were Pharaoh’s slaves in Egypt. And the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand.” These words continue to be spoken in the present tense long after the event itself!

Also in the Old Testament, when animal sacrifices were made to atone for the people’s sins, a portion of the sacrifice was eaten by the people in a meal. The eating itself signified a connection to the benefits of the sacrifice! Think of the significance of this in connection with Holy Communion…

Since You Asked…

What is the significance of sharing the peace?

“The peace which enables people to live in unity and in the spirit of mutual forgiveness comes only from Christ whose word has been proclaimed. … The peace is a sign that those who participate in it open themselves to the healing and reconciling power of God’s love and offer themselves to be agents of that love in the world. … The personal exchange of the peace should be as unpatterned as possible, but its meaning and significance should be kept clear. It is not the occasion merely for conviviality. The choice of gesture, whether a handshake, holding hands, or an embrace, should be left to the persons themselves.”  (from “Manual on the Liturgy” companion to the LBW, from Augsburg Pub.)

Receiving With Faith

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Concerning the Sacrament of Holy Communion, it can be a little daunting to approach the Lord’s Supper. After all, there is mention in 1 Corinthians 11 of partaking of the meal in an unworthy manner with the possible result of bringing judgment on yourself (vv. 27-30). That the Apostle Paul speaks in verse 27 of being guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord, is but another indicator from Scripture that Jesus’ body and blood are involved!

Lutherans teach that Holy Communion is the body and blood of our Lord. That is what is received by those who partake of the elements, whether or not they have faith! Christ’s promises do not depend on our faith, but upon his word. Where faith matters is in the effect Christ’s body and blood will have. If we receive the elements with faith in Christ’s words the reception of his body and blood will be beneficial. It will bring forgiveness.

If, on the other hand, there is no faith, we have been given a warning. Paul puts it this way, “Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.”

In the Small Catechism, Dr. Luther relates what it means to be prepared and to receive the sacrament worthily: “Fasting and other outward preparations serve a good purpose. However, that person is well prepared and worthy who believes these words, given and shed for you for the remission of sins. But anyone who does not believe these words, or doubts them, is neither prepared nor worthy, for the words for you require simply a believing heart.”

It is faith in God’s promises that make us worthy, for we receive Christ’s righteousness when as unworthy sinners we receive it as a gift, simply by taking him at his word! 

Since You Asked…

What is the meaning of the Incarnation?

The word incarnation is taken from Latin term incarnatio. It literally means “taking flesh” and in the Christian Faith it refers to God becoming human. In John 1:14 we learn of God the Son becoming flesh with the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. Indeed the child born to Mary was a man, but it is the insistence of the Christian Faith that Jesus was also fully God. He is sometimes called the God-Man. Without ceasing to be fully divine, inseparable and equal to God the Father and God the Holy Spirit; God the Son also fully assumed our humanity in the womb of the Virgin Mary. In this way Jesus mediates God to man and then also represents man to God. The mystery of the Incarnation becomes a necessary means by which Jesus’ death and resurrection accomplishes our salvation.

Given and Shed for You for the Remission of Sins

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Lutherans can be a little lonely among Protestants in believing Holy Communion to be a Sacrament and that we are actually extended the forgiveness of sins in the meal. Somehow that seems to be stretching things and assigning too much to a rite many consider to only be a symbol.

So Luther anticipated the objection, namely that eating and drinking could do all this. And the good Doctor responds in the Small Catechism, “It is not eating and drinking that does this, but the words, given and shed for you for the remission of sins. These words, along with eating and drinking, are the main things in the sacrament. And whoever believes these words has exactly what they say, forgiveness of sins.”

And you might anticipate the objection to once again be, well if it is the words that matter than why bother with the eating and drinking? And the response would have to simply be because our Lord himself combined the words with the eating of bread and drinking of the cup. He must have felt it worthwhile for us to chew on the promises and then to swallow them.

Earlier in his public ministry, in fact on the heels of his miraculous feeding of the 5,000, Jesus had spoken words that many found offensive. They are recorded in the sixth chapter of John. Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” What on earth did he mean?

For many Christians, Lutherans included, we believe that in the meal Christ himself instituted, our Lord gave the ability for us to eat Christ’s body and drink his blood. Of course we are speaking of our Lord’s supernatural body and blood, but this is no less his actual body and blood! And believers receive the benefits of his presence, namely, the forgiveness of sins.

Since You Asked…

How are we to understand the Easter Feast?

“Easter is to be understood as the crown of the whole year, the queen of feasts, and as such it lasts not for a day, not for a week, but for a week of weeks – a week not made up of seven days but of seven weeks. So the Sundays of this season are called the Sundays of Easter. It is one extended feast. …

The Gospels for the Sundays of Easter present the themes of resurrection, ascension, and the sending of the Holy Spirit as aspects or stages of the Easter Mystery…” (from the Manual on the Liturgy a companion to the Lutheran Book of Worship, publ. by Augsburg)

Sustained in the Lord’s Gift of Forgiveness

This week we continue our discussion of the Sacrament of Holy Communion. Last week I mentioned that as a Sacrament Lutherans believe Holy Communion bears a spiritual gift. So this week we will take a look at the benefits of this gift.

In explaining the benefits of Holy Communion Luther writes, “The benefits of this sacrament are pointed out by the words, given and shed for you for the remission of sins. These words assure us that in the sacrament we receive forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. For where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.”

So someone might ask, if we receive the forgiveness of sins in Holy Baptism why do we need the forgiveness mediated to us in a meal? The same question could be asked as to why we need to keep asking for forgiveness if our sins were washed away in Baptism. And the answer for both would be the same. It is because we continue to sin.

I like to think of the Baptismal font as the womb of the Church that bestows spiritual birth. In keeping with this maternal image, that would make Holy Communion the Church’s nursing breasts. The point being is that we are both bestowed and nurtured in our life in Christ.

Too often we think of our faith in Christ as some kind of commercial transaction, as though by faith we have purchased a gift that is now ours forever and that it will always be around if we need it. But rather than thinking of faith in static terms, we should view it as a journey. Belief has to start somewhere, but once started, trusting and repenting will be ongoing throughout our earthly pilgrimage. The good news is that God equips and gifts us for this. And Holy Communion is a tangible way we continue to be sustained in the Lord’s gift of forgiveness.

Since You Asked…

What are we observing on “The Sunday of the Passion?

The Sunday of the Passion mixes triumph and tragedy, the palms and the passion, observing Christ’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem as well as looking ahead to his passion and death on the cross.

As the prelude to the Sunday of the Passion  the Procession with Palms provides an appropriate burst of joy which does not lose sight of the solemn goal of Jesus’ triumphal entry. Then as we transition to the events to transpire in the week ahead we will read in its entirety the Passion according to one of the Gospel Accounts. (taken from the Lutheran Planning Calendar, publ. by Augsburg Fortress)

Holy Communion - Taking Jesus at His Word

Just as Baptism is variously understood among Christians, the same can be said about Holy Communion. And again, a major difference is between those holding to an understanding of Holy Communion as a sacrament and those understanding the meal as an ordinance. As a sacrament Lutherans believe that God gives a gift as we commune. As an ordinance other Christians believe that Christ wanted us to share this meal, not that anything supernatural takes place, but so that we would thereby remember Jesus’ death on the cross as a sacrifice for sins.

Dr. Luther in his Small Catechism can be trusted to give us a simple definition of Holy Communion. He writes, “Holy Communion is the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ given with bread and wine, instituted by Christ himself for us to eat and drink.”

And then the good Doctor cites Matthew, Mark, Luke, and Paul as the source of his definition. Together they provide our Lord’s words of institution. Hear them once more! “In the night in which he was betrayed, our Lord Jesus took bread, and gave thanks; broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying: Take and eat; this is my body, given for you. Do this for the remembrance of me. Again, after supper he took the cup, gave thanks, and gave it for all to drink, saying: This cup is the new covenant in my blood, shed for you and for all people for the forgiveness of sin. Do this for the remembrance of me.”

It is easy to assume that Jesus is using figurative language here, because we have been preconditioned in our age to think that material thing can not be the bearers of spiritual gifts, and because we do not visually see Christ’s mystical body and blood in the meal. But if we take Jesus at his word, then the Apostle Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 10 make sense, namely that the bread is a participation in Christ’s body, and the cup a participation in Christ’s blood.

Since You Asked…

What is the meaning of the Incarnation?

The word incarnation is taken from Latin term incarnatio. It literally means “taking flesh” and in the Christian Faith it refers to God becoming human. In John 1:14 we learn of God the Son becoming flesh with the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. Indeed the child born to Mary was a man, but it is the insistence of the Christian Faith that Jesus was also fully God. He is sometimes called the God-Man. Without ceasing to be fully divine, inseparable and equal to God the Father and God the Holy Spirit; God the Son also fully assumed our humanity in the womb of the Virgin Mary. In this way Jesus mediates God to man and then also represents man to God. The mystery of the Incarnation becomes a necessary means by which Jesus’ death and resurrection accomplishes our salvation.

What Does Baptism Mean for Daily Living?

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One of the biggest pitfalls in understanding Holy Baptism is to view it as a one-time event, as a kind of fire insurance policy. There have actually been requests made of Pastors in these words, “Will you do my kid?”

It is healthier to view Baptism in terms of a journey, one that starts with the rite itself and ends with our physical death and burial. At death we can say that the person has completed their baptismal journey.

Luther poses the question in his Small Catechism, “What does Baptism mean for daily living?” He then answers, “It means that our sinful self, with all its evil deeds and desires, should be drowned through daily repentance; and that day after day a new self should arise to live with God in righteousness and purity forever.”

And for Scriptural confirmation of this understanding Luther points to Romans 6: “We were buried therefore with him by Baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”

Baptism has been called the Rite of Initiation. One of the reasons for preferring that the rite take place during the worship gathering is so others in the Body of Christ can be on hand to welcome the new member. And as this reception takes place the assembled congregation pledges its support in the ongoing nurture of the new life in Christ!

It isn’t the case that God does his thing in Baptism then the rest is up to us. No, our salvation from beginning to end is his divine work. And as Paul says in Philippians, “he who begun a good work in you will bring it to completion.” It isn’t our work, but it is a process, indeed a journey. And the journey involves ongoing repentance. That is, confessing our sins and asking and believing in our Lord’s promise to forgive. I like the expression, “walking wet!” And we are to walk wet the rest of our lives!

Since You Asked…

What is the Christian’s Hope?

In a word, it is the resurrection of the body to life everlasting in the world to come. This is more accurate and complete than just saying “life after death.” It is also more helpful than saying “going to heaven.” When Jesus returns at the end of the age to judge the living and the dead, baptized believers will be raised bodily! They will share in a resurrection similar to Jesus’ resurrection. And being in his presence on that day and for all eternity is not just a matter of escaping to heaven, but living in his presence in the new heaven and earth. The Lord intends to renew and restore his creation. So our central hope is the resurrection of the dead, with believers inheriting the Kingdom.

Water With the Word

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In discussing the outstanding gifts given in Baptism last week, I can only anticipate the objection. As Luther frames the question in his Small Catechism, “How can water do such great things?” Are Lutherans among those who make too much of a simple rite involving water?

As stated last week, we believe in Baptism God forgives sin, delivers from death and the devil, and gives everlasting salvation to all who believe what he has promised.

So how does water accomplish all this? Luther writes, “It is not water that does these things, but God’s Word with the water and our trust in this Word. Water by itself is only water, but with the Word of God it is a life-giving water which by grace gives the new birth through the Holy Spirit.”

The question quickly becomes, where in the Scriptures is this taught? And the passage that Luther cites for this is Titus 3, where St. Paul writes, “He saved us … in virtue of his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit, which he poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our savior, so that we might be justified by his grace and become heirs in hope of eternal life.”

An additional passage that I find convincing is from Ephesians 5 where St. Paul is referring to the relationship of a husband and wife in marriage. He tells husbands that they are to love their wives as Christ loves the church. He then goes on to describe this love of Christ as one where he “gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word!”

Now the washing of water alone would not sanctify, but Paul refers to a “washing of water WITH THE WORD!” The question that matters, is not whether God can use Baptism to give salvation, but whether we trust his Word and through faith receive the gift.

Since You Asked…

Are announcements necessary? And should they be included as a part of the liturgy?

Not all announcements are necessary! Nor should they be allowed to disrupt the rhythmic flow of the service. It is likewise important that announcements be kept to a minimum. But certain announcements are important. Information that will enhance participation in the worship, information pertaining to further Christian service, and information for regarding further opportunities for spiritual edification are such announcements of importance, and they are worthwhile to promote publicly to the assembly. We have chosen the beginning of the worship service as the most helpful and least disruptive placement for announcements.

Baptism - A Visible Word

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This week we will consider the benefits of Baptism. And as we do so we will understand that for Lutherans, Baptism is a Sacrament. Christians today generally fall into two camps concerning Baptism. They either regard it as a Sacrament or as an Ordinance. Let me briefly state the difference.

As a Sacrament, we believe that there are certain benefits connected to this divinely instituted rite. That is, we believe there are certain gifts given or conferred in this action. For those who think of it as an Ordinance, the action is carried out as a matter of obedience. Jesus commanded us to baptize. But other than as a matter of obedience, the rite itself does not convey a gift or any favor.

When asked what benefits God gives in Baptism, Luther responded, “In Baptism God forgives sin, delivers from death and the devil, and gives everlasting salvation to all who believe what he has promised.” And what Scripture backing does the good Doctor cite for this claim? He quotes Jesus in Mark 16, “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.”

Interestingly, Lutherans are among those who take Scripture at face value. We have not already concluded, like some, that it is impossible for God to use physical means to deliver a spiritual benefit. We know that Christ’s death on the cross is what earned our salvation. And we also know that we receive the gift of salvation by faith. And further still, we know that God uses physical means to deliver the gift of salvation to each of us. He uses the preaching of the Gospel. And as he directed the making of disciples by baptizing, we take Scripture at face value, that Baptism bestows the gift of salvation.

St. Augustine called Baptism a “Visible Word” of God. And for Lutherans, Baptism employs the three criteria for being a sacrament: 1) It is commanded by Christ, 2) It uses something physical (water), and 3) it has the clear promise in the Word of bestowing forgiveness.

Since You Asked…

Does the receiving of money offerings play a significant role in the worship service?

Yes, more than you might think! Cash is one of the strongest symbols in modern culture. When we offer our money on the altar it should represent our time and effort – our very selves. In early Christian worship gifts-in-kind were handled during the weekly assemblage. In our post-industrial societies, we now exchange in paper or metal symbols. The offering of our selves upon the altar is in response to God’s love proclaimed in the Good News and in anticipation of how God offers back that which is entrusted to him. During the moment of offering we also offer bread and wine upon the altar, and in return these gifts are offered back to us as the very body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Baptism - The Word of Promise Becomes Visible

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In the last newsletter we began to look at the Sacrament of Holy Baptism. I commented on how we have been commanded as Christ’s disciples to baptize in his name. And this is how we have been instructed to go about making disciples. We are to baptize in the Triune Name of God and to catechize (Matt. 28:19-20).

This week I want us to understand what we are talking about when we use the term “baptize”. Interestingly, the English word is drawn from the Greek baptizo which literally means to wash or make clean with water. It is the same word used when cups and dishes are washed. But this common word is employed by our Lord to have a very special meaning when used as a rite in making disciples.

To recall what I shared last time, Luther says of this rite, “Baptism is not water only, but it is water used together with God’s Word and by his command.” It is important to emphasize here, that this is not a man-made rite! Human ingenuity did not dream up a creative way to have a rite of initiation. Nor did human imagination design a picturesque way of illustrating the dying to sin and rising to new life that occurs when a person comes to Christ! Instead, our Lord Jesus himself gave specific instructions and orders of how to go about evangelism.

Of course Christian Baptism was already in the making with the divinely inspired baptism that John the Baptist was proclaiming. And with his baptism we learned of the need to have our sins washed away.

That God works in and through his created order to mediate his grace is not surprising! After all, his Son became Incarnate, assuming our humanity, so that through him the Invisible God became visible! Baptism becomes a chosen means where the Word of promise becomes visible, along with being audible, so that we might come to trust in Christ’s work on the Cross.

 

What is the meaning of “Lent”?

The English word “Lent” means “springtime”. Lent is the six-week period of spiritual discipline before Easter (40 days not counting Sundays). At an early period in the Church’s history baptisms might only be celebrated once a year at the Easter Vigil Service. Accordingly there was a period prior to this of introducing and training candidates for baptism. In time the training for baptismal candidates grew to a six week period, and this training involved fasting. The 40 days was, no doubt, modeled on the 40 days of our Lord Jesus’ fasting in the wilderness before his temptations by the devil. As the years passed the Lenten fast began to be applied, not only to the baptismal candidates, but to the church as a whole. Church members were encouraged to approach Easter in the same manner in which they had solemnly prepared for their baptisms. That is why the Season of Lent has finally developed as a time for fasting, study, prayer, acts of love, and humility. (with help from The Westminster Dictionary of Worship, edited by J.G. Davies, The Westminster Press.)

Baptism: Not Just Water

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This week we move on to the Fourth Part of Luther’s Small Catechism. Thus far we have looked at The Ten Commandments, The Apostles’ Creed, and The Lord’s Prayer. With the Fourth Part we will consider the Sacraments of Holy Baptism and Holy Communion. We will also reflect on Confession and Absolution.

With the Ten Commandments we are taught what God expects of us. And accordingly, as in holding a mirror before us, we see we fall far short of these expectations. With the Apostles’ Creed we are taught what God has graciously done, and continues to do, for us – even though we fall short of his expectations. With the Lord’s Prayer we are taught how we are to live for the One who has so graciously acted, and still acts, for us. And by praying, we acknowledge that it is only by his grace that we can live for him.

Now with a meditation on the Sacraments, we will discover and be reminded of important resources God provides us with to live in and for Him!

The Fourth Part begins with Holy Baptism. The first question posed in the Catechism is, “What is Baptism?” And Luther’s explanation is, “Baptism is not water only, but it is water used together with God’s Word and by his command.” Then Luther substantiates this with Matthew 28:19: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

And so why do we baptize? For starters, our Lord Jesus has commanded us to baptize. And because we are commanded to do so, that means that we are authorized to act on his behalf. Jesus says as much when he commands us to do the baptizing “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

Importantly, our Lord is the one who washes away our sins! And he does this through his proxies, that is, through his followers, his Body the Church. And we do so in his name!

 

 

Since You Asked…

What is the purpose and meaning of our Votive Prayer Candles?

To “light a candle for someone” means that you will say a prayer for them. The candle symbolizes your prayers. When we light a candle it is a sign of attentiveness and that we are being purposeful in offering intercessory prayer. It is an important act in which we are involved! To be in prayer is to be spiritually awake and vigilant. And as the candle continues to burn it symbolizes our ongoing prayers. It is a sign to others that prayers are being offered. In such an atmosphere, indeed the darkness gives way to light.